We had the good fortune of connecting with Sanjay Rana and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sanjay, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I believe this may be true of many entrepreneurs, but the driving force behind starting my own business was trying to gain a little more control over my destiny. This is definitely possible in a corporate environment with the pursuit of a career, but in my case entrepreneurship was a way to fully stretch my wings and experiment with ideas at their fullest potential. There is a high level of risk involved, but also the freedom to try it all and learn at an unfettered pace.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
The Austin Terrier restaurant is a neighborhood American Bistro featuring artisan pizzas, gourmet burgers and sandwiches, salads, soups and appetizers. We provide great quality and flavor at an approachable price. The restaurant features twelve rotating craft beers, hand selected wines, and a full bar featuring signature cocktails. The restaurant features a casual dining and bar area, with Boston Terrier themed art, in an inviting eclectic atmosphere. Outdoor seating consists of a patio and beer garden that are dog friendly, and we provide water bowls and complimentary dog treats to our four legged guests. The restaurant was purchased from the previous owner about 4 years ago. The business was in slight decline at the time, and I had a vision of the changes I wanted to implement to the menu and decor at the time I took over the business. I was not able to make many of these changes until almost a year and half after acquiring the business though. All my initial effort went into simply maintaining daily operations, and keeping up with staffing challenges. There was a lot of trial by fire learning involved in stabilizing restaurant operations and staffing. I utilized my prior experience, managing technology projects, to implement processes and documentation to get operational procedures standardized and running fairly smoothly, which in turn improved staff moral with clear expectations and roles set out for them. Next came working on the changes I had in mind prior to the purchase of the restaurant. We implemented fairly inexpensive but dramatic changes to the decor to lend the restaurant a more mature and modern feel. I worked with kitchen staff to develop new recipes for appetizers and burgers, and also added a few new options to the ever popular pizzas and sandwiches. I enjoy cooking at home, and was able to utilize some of that skillset in developing new recipes for the restaurant, though it was a lot more challenging than anticipated as each recipe has be to easily scalable, and fairly quick to prepare from order placement time. The beer and wine license was expanded to include liquor, and we worked on adding signature and classic cocktails to our offerings. These changes had the desired effect of gradually brining in new customers, increasing repeat business, and increasing average ticket size. We eventually realized a year over year gain in monthly revenue in the 24% to 28% range, and were on a very happy trajectory until the pandemic changed things last year. With the shutdown of dining rooms, in March 2019, we saw revenue drop to about 30% of normal revenue. We had to furlough a lot of our staff, and we faced a new and changed world with a slew of obstacles to tackle. The last year has been a torrent of change and evolution in a bid to survive, and we are fortunate to have made it thus far. We started off by scrambling to launch online ordering, setting up a curbside pickup process, and implementing new health and safety protocols. Once outdoor dining was opened up by the city, we expanded our outdoor seating by working with the landlord to take over a parking lot island with a beautiful large live oak, and converting the area to a beer garden which was necessary to make up for the decreased patio seating capacity due to socially distanced tables. I was hesitant to open up indoor dining when the city opened up this option to restaurants, as guest and employee safety and well being were of paramount importance to me. Eventually we came across a Dual Ionization add on option for our HVACs that made it possible to open up indoor dining safely. The Dual Ionization system pumps ions into the restaurant, and has been lab proven to effectively neutralize the COVID-19 virus. We are now proud to offer one of the safest indoor dining options in the city. Implementation of these changes, with supplemental money from PPP loans enabled us to survive a very challenging year, and we are optimistic about the future as we once again see increasing patronage and revenue month over month. I have learnt a lot about the food industry over the last few years, and though very different from software and business consulting, I was able to apply many efficiency processes and methods used in consulting to improve operational flow at the restaurant. The human resources component of the restaurant world is very different from the corporate landscape, and it has taken a while to learn how to motivate and increase employee engagement in the restaurant realm. The Austin Terrier brand is a go to pet and family friendly restaurant with exciting food and drink offerings, with great friendly service, at everyday approachable prices. Austin Terrier prioritizes guest and employee health and safety over profits, and the restaurant continues to be an anchor neighborhood meeting place. All these offerings can be enjoyed in our cozy art filled bar and dining area, small patio with great views, or the new beer garden under the shade of a great live oak.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Below is a sample itinerary for friends visiting Austin for a long weekend, which can be stretched into a week for a more relaxed schedule.
Day 1- Downtown/Central Austin Start the day off with a coffee and light breakfast at Summer Moon coffee (Anderson Lane and Burnet). Head to the University of Texas at Austin and walk the 40 acres that comprise this beautiful campus. Grab a light lunch with street style tacos at the Las Trancas food truck, featuring authentic Mexico City Style tacos. Walk around Town Lake and take in views of the city and if so inclined, head to Paddle Austin for Kayak rentals for some fun on the water. Take a bat viewing boat tour around sunset (spring through fall) to view millions Mexican Freetail bats take to the sky in a scene out of a Hitchcock movie. Walk down sixth street and discover the numerous bars, clubs and live music venues. Cross under the highway and explore East Sixth street which is quickly evolving, but maintains a little of the quirky Austin charm. Enjoy cocktails at Ah Sin Den or Whistlers, and grab some grub at the numerous food trucks in the area. Spicy Boys is a personal favorite.
Day 2 – Capitol/South Congress Explore the beautiful State Capitol Grounds, and take in the grandeur of the State Capitol building clad in pink granite. If tours are available, tour the inside of the capitol. Head down to South Congress avenue and explore the numerous boutiques and kitschy stores there. Have lunch at Guerros Mexican restaurant to fuel you in between. Grab a coffee at Jo’s Coffee and take a requisite photo at their ‘I Love You So Much’ mural. Take a refreshing swim in the Barton Springs pool, and if you prefer not to get wet opt for either a round of Putt Putt at Peter Pan, or a short Pitch and Putt only golf at Butler Pitch and Putt. Take in some spectacular skyline views from Butler Park. Fuel up with pizzas slices at Home Slice pizza, before popping into the iconic Continental Club to get a taste of Austin’s live music scene.
Day 3 – Austin Surrounds Start the day with breakfast tacos from the original Taco Deli at Barton Skyway. Access the Barton Creek Green Belt across the road from Taco Deli, and take in a short hike to explore this oasis in the center of Austin. Drive out to Drift Wood to the Duchman winery and sample their award winning wines on their beautiful grounds. Depending on your mood, have lunch at either Trattoria Lisina (Italian), by chef Damian Mandola, next door. A great alternative is to drive back toward Austin and stop in at the Salt Lick for quintessential hill country BBQ. Head back to Austin and explore Rainey Street and it myriad of unique bars and restaurants. Craft bar, with a curated selection of Texas Craft Beers, is a must try for beer connoisseurs. My favorite place to grab a bite is the Via 313 food truck at Craft. Via 313 offers award winning Detroit style pizza. Bangers is also a great option with craft beers and gourmet sausages.
Day 4 – Austin with Fur Baby in tow Let Fido stretch his legs out at gorgeous bull creek. This is a favorite run free and swim around spots for dogs, and the creek and waterfalls are spectacular. Also great for exploration without Fido. Next go up to the cliffs overlooking Pennybacker bridge (360 Bridge) for spectacular views of the bridge, country club, and Lake Austin. Lunch at Austin Terrier to satisfy those worked up appetites. Indulge in pizzas and burgers, or keep it light with a half sandwich and half salad. Work off lunch with a short climb up the steps to Mt. Bonnell for spectacular 360 degree views of the city. Visit Laguna Gloria for a tranquil stroll of their water front grounds featuring modern sculptures from some of the best artists around. The main villa is one of the most photogenic examples of Art Deco. Just before sunset, head over to The Oasis on Lake Travis for spectacular views of the lake. The Oasis Brewing Company is a part of this entertainment complex, and offers dramatic views, great beer, and is dog friendly. End the day with a visit to a brewery with dinner from adjoining food truck. Some that I like are 4th tap with SXSE Laotian food truck, HopSquad with BackDraft pizza, and Austin Beer Works with rotating food trucks.
• If you have kids in tow, the Thinkery in the Mueller development is a must visit.
• Kids also love the Austin Zoo. Less a zoo and more a refuge for rescued animals, the Austin Zoo allows kids to easily view their myriad of rescued animals, ranging from tigers to owls and snakes. The zoo also features a miniature train ride.
• If swimming holes sound appealing, Austin surrounds happen to boast two of the best in the country. Visit either Hamilton Pool (advance online reservations required), or privately owned Krause Springs.
• Some iconic live music venues include Hole In The Wall and Cactus Café around the University of Texas campus, Antone’s and Mohawk in the downtown area. Pick up a free Austin Chronicle paper for the weeks live music listings and have fun exploring.
• Grab a cocktail at the bar of the historic Driskill Hotel, or on the first floor bar patio of the Stephen F. Austin hotel.
• For a day of pampering and sumptuous healthy eats, look into Lake Austin Spa.
Alright, so let’s jump right in! The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there a person, group, organization, book, etc. that you want to dedicate your shoutout to? Who else deserves a little credit and recognition in your story?
Leaving the corporate world and a secure paycheck was definitely a scary first step. Taking this initial step would not have been feasible without the buy in and support of my spouse. Prachi has been omnipresent as a measured sounding board and had to take this leap of faith with me, despite being a lot more trepidatious than I was. My leap into entrepreneurship would not have been feasible without the intellectual, emotional, and financial support of my wife. She continues to be my daily sounding board for the constantly evolving challenges we face as a business, and helps keep me even keeled through ongoing challenges we face. This has especially been the case the past year, with the seemingly insurmountable challenges the pandemic has constantly thrown at us.